Film director and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (ret.) John Ford hated cowardice. The very thought of a man who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) stand up for himself, his God or his country was anathema to the self-proclaimed “Blue Jacket,” and yet he was fascinated by the weakness and dissected it over and over in his films, from his silents (such as The Iron Horse, 1924 to the final sunset of Seven Women in 1966).
To Mr. Ford, being afraid wasn’t the issue; it was what a person did with fear that counted. Many of Ford’s heroes are men who refuse to give in to their flop sweat despite themselves, like Victor McLaglen in The Lost Patrol (1934), or James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). If a character can swallow his pride and find inner strength, then he’s worthy of the audience’s and Mr. Ford’s respect. But if he can’t find his guts, then Ford will ravage him. We can well understand Gippo Nolan’s motives for selling out his friends in The Informer (1935), but we watch his coward’s death with Fords’ detached eye.
After all, is there a more pathetic excuse for a lawman than Andy Devine’s Link Appleyard in Liberty Valance? Not in Mr. Ford’s view, and although Link is a battered (and comically sad) survivor, it is dead hero Tom Doniphon—the man who really killed Liberty — whom we respect. Doniphon acted, the rest were merely spectators.
It’s not surprising that Ford chose to address the issue of cowardice again when he directed “The Colter Craven Story” for NBC’s Wagon Train in 1960. Taking the assignment as a favor to series star and old pal Ward Bond……………………………………………..